Guangzhou, Nov 25: The Indian men's hockey team lifted itself from the disappointment of missing a final berth and clinched the bronze medal after defeating four-time champions South Korea in the third-place playoff at the Asian Games here today.
India beat the 2002 and 2006 champions with a lone second half goal through Tushar Khandekar to end their campaign on a better note than four years ago in Doha where they ended up a poor fifth.
Having their dreams of winning the gold destroyed by the 3-4 defeat against Malaysia in the semifinals, the Rajpal Singh-led side outsmarted the fitter and faster Koreans.
By virtue of this bronze, India ended their eight year-long medal drought in the quadrennial event after having finished on the podium (silver) in the 2002 Busan Games.
India's win also ended double defending champions South Korea's honeymoon in Asian Games hockey. This is the first instance since the 1986 Seoul Games that they finished without a medal.
India held on to the 40th minute field goal notched by Khandekar who, left unmarked in front of the Korean goal, pushed in a long diagonal hit into the D sent in by Gurbaj Singh, for the all-important goal at the Aoti hockey field.
The Indians kept the pace down in the first half against the speedy Koreans and then upped the ante in the second half in which they got their match-winner but also muffed a couple of golden opportunities to score more.
The player of the match for India was goalkeeper Bharat Chetri who brought off fine saves in defending the penalty corners in which the Koreans are adept with variations.
Korea earned two penalty corners in the opening half and one in the second but all came to naught due to Chetri's fine stint under the Indian bar who leaped to his right and blocked the drag-flicks from the rival players.
India were also unsuccessful with the two penalty corner efforts they got, one of which - taken indirectly when Sandeep Singh relayed the ball to Dhananjay Mahadik who essayed a shot that should have gone in but for Korean defender and captain Lee Nam Yong making a goal-line save in the 24th minute.
Luckily for India, the Koreans could not convert this gift given to them by Pakistan umpire H Rasool into the equalizer that they were desperately searching for.
The Indian defence held on to the early second half lead given by Khandekar till the end and walked off with the bronze.
The Indians should have scored two more goals but for the misses by Rajpal Singh in the 50th minute off a centre from the left by Sardar Singh.
Khandekar had all the time in the world to put the ball in and complete a brace in the 63rd minute from the top of the circle but hit it wide of the post, after Rajpal did the spadework.
Coach Jose Brasa, whose stint has come to an end with the end of India's campaign in the Games, raised a controversy after the match saying that the late equaliser by Malaysia against India should not have been awarded at all.
"The equaliser against us in the semifinal (off a short corner award) was no penalty corner at all. We saw the video of the match and that penalty corner should not have been given, just as the penalty corner today awarded against us in the second half was no penalty corner," said the Spaniard.
Overall Brasa said the Indians had played good hockey throughout the tournament.
"We played very good hockey but I am not happy that we are not going back with the gold medal. Today we controlled the game very well and did not allow the Koreans to touch our D at all in the second half. We had the opportunity to score the second and third goals," he said about the missed chances in the second half.
He also rubbished reports that the entire support staff of the team had resigned.
Skipper Rajpal said though the team did not achieve the purpose for which it came here, to win gold and qualify for the London Olympic Games in 2012, he was confident it will make it to the Olympics through the forthcoming qualifiers if it can play the way it did today.
"The purpose for which we came here was not achieved. We played very god hockey today and if we continue to play the way we did today we should qualify for the Olympics," he said.
Sardar Singh said the team was happy to play under Brasa. "It will be good if he stays on. If you have seen the team play before (Brasa's arrival) and here you would notice the difference. The entire team is happy to play under Brasa.
"We have played well in this tournament but for the last 4-5 minutes (of regular time) against Malaysia," he added.
Goalkeeper Chetri said that the team was motivated after the shock defeat against Malaysia to go back from here with at least one medal. PTI